In 2011, Los Angeles Galaxy U16 stormed its way to a National Championship, the first for the MLS Academy, behind stellar play from Jack McBean, William Raygoza, Sebastian Velasquez, and Matthew Tilley.
When the team came back together in the fall, head coach Kenny Arena was looking at a lot of new faces.
“It is a little like starting over each year, which is a good experience as a coach,” Kenny Arena told TopDrawerSoccer.com. “You have some guys back from last year’s team who did not play a lot, but now they have more responsibility.”
The new faces may not have the same pedigree as that championship squad from last year, but the team is starting to find a similar synergy, which enabled Arena’s squad to rampage through the Development Academy playoffs last summer.
“This group is coming along great,” said Arena. “There are new guys in the mix who will be going through what the old guys experienced. Our academy is still young so these experiences of transition and supporting older players and then having the responsibility to help younger players is interesting to see as a coach.”
Since returning to play in 2012, Galaxy is undefeated in four games with three wins and a draw.
Part of the reason for the sudden surge has been the emergence of a replacement for Raygoza in midfield ace Alejandro Vergara.
Vergara just turned 15 years old and is eligible to play with this age group for two more years, but his notoriety comes from his size. He appears to stand two feet shorter than teammate Justin Dhillon, who is just over 6’4. Opponents may overlook the tiny midfielder, but Galaxy knows they have a gem.
“He is a good soccer player,” said Arena. “The more I keep doing this, the more comfortable I feel trying to help players develop no matter how fast or big they are.”
The diminutive playmaker is perhaps overlooked by most of the competition given his size, but as soon as the ball hits his feet, the physical differences are thrown out the window.
With lightning quick steps, a smooth first touch, and a powerful shot, which sounds like a cannon went off, Vergara is a mesmerizing figure for the Galaxy Academy.
But he is only one of the contributors to Arena’s side, which is eyeing development of these players over defending the title.
One of the top scorers from last year’s team, Justin Dhillon, is back with Arena’s bunch. Dhillon has seven goals on the season, which includes a hat trick he scored last week against Pateadores.
Jaime Villarreal leads the team in scoring with 13 goals in 12 games, but he has spent the last few games playing with the U18 team due to an injury to his older brother, Jose.
Galaxy returns to action on Saturday with an important fixture against rivals Chivas USA. Galaxy U16 trails RSL-AZ by five points in the standings with the teams scheduled to play twice in April.
LA Galaxy U16 roster:
Juan Arellano, Martin Arrieta, Joseph Barakat, Nathan Castillo, Grayson Cornwell, Chris Constantini, Justin Dhillon, Angel Josue Espana, Bryan Guzman, Kevin Labastida, Aaron Lombardi, Steve Martinez, Axel Mendez, Jose Mora, Rolando Munoz, Mario Ortiz, Manuel Padilla, Douglas Perez, Matthew Perez, Vincent Reyes, Justin Schottenhammer, Daniil Slepukhin, Ivan Vasquez, Alejandro Vergara, Jaime Villarreal